28 September 2010

The Crucifix of Santo Spirito

Michelangelo Buonarroti self-taught the study of anatomy.  In the wee hours of the night, Michelangelo would sneak in and out of the morgue of the hospital at the church of Santo Spirito in Florence, Italy.  He would carve and dissect corpses and commit to his memory each layer of the body's systems.  The prior of Santo Spirito, Niccolo Bichiellini, was aware of someone entering the morgue, but it took quite a while before he put two and two together and came to the realization that it was indeed Michelangelo sneaking around.  Because the church prior liked Michelangelo and though the two never actually discussed Michelangelo's un-permitted entrance into the morgue and dissection of the corpses, there was an unspoken agreement that he was free to continue his anatomical studies; hence, no more sneaking.

Out of gratitude for the prior's generosity bestowed upon Michelangelo, when Michelangelo was a mere 18 years of age (1493), he sculpted the wooden crucifix of Jesus as a gift to the prior and the church. The sculpture remained in the high altar of the church until the early 1600s when some structural modifications to the church were made.  The cross was relocated and apparently lost for some time.

More recently, 1964, the sculpture was displayed in Rome and eventually moved to the Casa Buonarroti.  In the past week the sculpture was returned to its original home in the church of Santo Spirito.  I was fortunate to see the crucifix this weekend.

How do we really know it is a work of Il Divino, Michelangelo? He didn't ordinarily sculpt on wood.  I believe this may actually have been his only wood sculpture, but I cannot confirm this. It is a piece from his early years; hence, a bit simplistic in contrast to what he was known to create.  He wasn't known to sign his works.  Yet after much testing by the experts, it has been determined and confirmed that in fact it is a work of Michelangelo.  There are those who challenge this.  Always a controversy...  Who am I to say?  I enjoy learning about his life and the jealous relationship he had with Leonardo Da Vinci, and I accept that it is a work of art created by the master.

From my observation, the sclupture is smaller than life-size. The cross itself stands approximately six feet tall, and Jesus is probably slightly more than three feet tall.  The face is humble and peaceful; his feet nailed to the cross.  It is a gorgeous piece. Originally, Jesus was sculpted naked, with the understanding that a slip of clothing would be added, but in the various relocations of the sculpture, the clothing has been lost.

I had hoped to capture a photograph of my own, but the priest -- or was it a prior? -- was on duty in the room, making sure no one took pictures nor spoke or gasped too loudly.
-- Josslyn "Giosalina"
Firenze, Italia

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